Josiah Wedgwood and his friends. They were the most brilliant group in England in the eighteenth-century, and quite possibly the most eccentric.Some are forgotten today. Most actually. But some of them changed the world. it was a kind of parallel world running alongside that of Jane Austen…
…No subject was safe from their interest. When Wedgwood wished to find the best fertilizer and the best way to use it, he himself conducted the trials. He headed a new page in his journal for August 11,1781: “Some experiments for increasing the effects of a given quantity of Lime as a manure, and like wise of Dung, by dissolving them in water, and watering the land with their solutions.” he proceeded carefully to record the various stages of his experiments: dung alone was tried and dung with water, dung in lumps and in solution, and finally all the available varieties of dung were tested, neatly headed: “Dung of different kinds but chiefly Cow.” Much of it was written with the formality of a corollary to a mathematical theorem and the instructions have the absorbed care of a French recipe. For Wedgwood was absorbed and so were his friends. The same thoroughness marks all his trials: those on cobalt fill twenty closely written pages, his list of clays to be fired and tested amounts to 147 on a single page, and he fired more than 10,000 pieces of jasper before he achieved perfection.
Being confident of the powers of science and technology, Wedgwood and his friends welcomed every discovery as the harbinger of progress: Franklin’s lighting conductor would usher in scientific rain-making as a substitute for the theological variety; Priestley’s method of procuring pure air from the calxes of metals would introduce an age of underwater travel. Optimism came easily to them, perhaps too easily, but buoyed up by the practical successes of Brindley’s bridges and canals, Wedgwood’s ceramic bodies, Darwin’s windmill, and James Watt’s steram engine, they could afford to let their imagination soar. Some of their projects- speaking machines, air conditioning, submarines, and a flying bird powered by gunpowder or compressed air- might not bring immediate results, but they created an atmosphere of scientific enthusiasm from which blossomed the practical ideas of Priestley, Watt and Wedgwood.
The constant interchange of scientific ideas bred abundant results: Watt,s copying press sprang from Darwin’s original idea, Wedgworth’s carriage from a model suggested by Darwin, Wedgwood’s thermometer from experiments which had interested them all…. ( to be continued)